A little over a year ago the Pittsburgh Pirates selected a pitcher in the 3rd round of the MLB Amateur Draft, 79th Overall, that some experts called the steal of the draft, while others referred to him as a first round talent; and who was compared to a Hall Famer by Pirates General Manager Ben Cherington.
Standing 6’4” tall and weighing 215 pounds, Nick Garcia just looks like a starting pitcher, and potential ace of every staff he has ever been on. The original draft buzz surrounding Garcia began as he struck out 20 batters in 17 innings of relief work in the Cape Cod League in 2019. However, it seems that his track record over two seasons at Chapman University, a Division III school in Orange County, California-where it should be noted that he started out in the box, not on the mound-and the stuff that came with it, totally sealed the deal for Ben Cherington and Company; resulting in him signing for a $1.2 million bonus- $451,600 over slot value.
In two seasons he struck out 118 batters, while only walking 21 in 83 innings. In 2019 he helped lead his team to the NCAA Division III Championship, earning Most Outstanding Player honors. With a fastball (60 grade) that consistently touches 97, a 85 mph wipeout slider and 86-88 mph cutter he was always keeping hitters on their toes and heels. Originally listed within the Pirates Top Prospects on both MLB Pipeline (17th) and Fangraphs (23rd), immediately following his acquisition, he has found himself outside of the top 30 (34th on Fangraphs, with a 40 FV) due to trades, as well as another draft between then and now. Plus, if we are being totally honest, he hasn’t performed well on a consistent basis the entire season.
Beginning the year out of the bullpen for the Low-A Bradenton Marauders, Garcia found some success in the early going. In the month of May he posted a 3.14 ERA, a 1.395 WHIP and 16 strikeouts across 14.1 innings of work in 5 appearances. In the month of June he split his time between relief and starting roles; ultimately seeing his WHIP balloon to 1.703 and his ERA tick up slightly to 3.65 through 12.1 innings. In spite of these struggles found himself earning a regular spot in the starting rotation in nine of his next 10 outings. During this time, up until the present day, Garcia has put up a 4.81 ERA and a 1.246 WHIP, while striking out 39, walking 15 and giving up a concerning 7 homers over 39.1 innings, or in laymen’s terms, not exactly setting the world on fire; which eventually leads to questioning his role for the Pirates moving forward.
Well, in the immediate future it looks like there will only be an opportunity for two more starts-in line for one today-before the end of the regular season, and maybe 3 appearances if he is used out of the pen; still, I don’t see this being nearly as important as his assignment and role in the 2022 Minor League Season, which should be vigorously evaluated this off-season based on the reimagined fall and winter instructs discussed by John Baker-the Pirates Director of Coaching and Player Development, a position formerly known as the Director of Minor League Operations-with reporters on Sunday.
However, even without knowing the consequent outcomes of these assessments, based on the workouts held at Pirate City, it could be a fairly reasonable assumption that the Pirates wouldn’t want to completely close the door on the idea of Garcia being a starter; most likely in Greensboro to start next season. Although, a role in the bullpen could lead to a more accelerated path to PNC.
Regrettably for now-as it pertains to Nick Garcia’s outlook-it’s sit back and wait, as the unknowns far outweigh the guarantees.